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Your Internet Shopping Guide to Stylish Plus-Size Clothing: Sizes 12 +

 

CURVY STYLE
COLLABORATION NOTES
between Dr. Robyn Silverman author of Good Girls Don't Get Fat
& Thea Politis, Founder and Managing Editor of Elegant Plus

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DR ROBYN: How to help our girls to feel beautiful at any size:

  1. Teach your daughter to have fun with beauty: This can help your daughter widen her definition of what is beautiful. Why take everything so seriously? Beauty should be fun! Every person deserves to look their best. If our daughters wait until they lose weight before they give themselves permission to buy something new, dress up, or treat themselves well, they are punishing themselves and setting themselves up for disappointment. It often seems that we put ourselves on a never-ending treadmill, chasing a certain weight on the scale or a certain size on the rack, only to get to our goal and find that it is still not good enough. If your daughter and her doctor decide that losing weight is necessary for her health, she still deserves to feel beautiful right now.

HERE I NEED INFORMATION ON SOMETHING DIFFERENT THAT ISN’T WRITTEN IN EVERY BEAUTY BOOK KNOWN TO WOMAN KIND—BUT VERY SPECIFIC STUFF. I NEED WORDS OF ADVICE FOR THOSE GIRLS WHO THINK THAT THEY CAN’T LOOK GOOD UNLESS THEY LOOK LIKE A THIN CELEBRITY—WHAT CAN THEY DO NOW TO MAKE THEMSELVES LOOK FABULOUS WHETHER THEY WANT TO LOSE WEIGHT OR THEY DON’T. WE DON’T WANT GIRLS TO HIDE BEHIND BIG BAGGY CLOTHES THINKING THAT THAT’S ALL THEY DESERVE (THAT’S WHAT I GOT FROM MANY GIRLS I INTERVIEWED!). WHAT SPECIFICALLY WOULD YOU SAY ARE THE BEST STORES FOR GIRLS AT ANY SIZE, THE BEST STYLES FOR CURVY GIRLS (PLUS SIZE OR NOT) WHO MAY FIT INTO LINDSEY LOHAN’S SKINNY JEANS, BEST MAKE-UP COLORS OR TRICKS. WHAT WE WANT HERE IS FOR PARENTS TO READ THIS SECTION AND FEEL THAT THEY HAVE THE STEPS TO HELP THEIR DAUGHTER FEEL BEAUTIFUL NO MATTER WHAT HER SIZE. WE WANT THEM TO BE ABLE TO TAKE THE STEPS RIGHT NOW. WHAT DO THEY DO? WHERE DO THEY GO (STORES, WEBSITES)? WHAT BRANDS SHOULD THEY LOOK FOR? HOW CAN THEY TRANSLATE WHAT THEY SEE IN THEOSE HIGH FASHION MAGAZINES INTO STYLES AND FITS THAT WILL WORK FOR THEM? WHAT TECHNIQUES SHOULD THEY USE? WHERE CAN THEY START RIGHT NOW?

THEA POLITIS:

Thea Politis, the Founder and Managing Editor of ElegantPlus.com one of the largest internet fashion resource guides for women of all ages sizes 12 and larger that was established in 2002 to help women of all shapes of curves put their best foot forward and boost body esteem with an “I’m beautiful, powerful, and worthwhile at any size” attitude. She has studied, taught and written about art, style and design for over twenty years and says “The secret to looking great has several factors for any size: choosing age appropriate styles and colors that suit your individual coloring; choosing occasion appropriate clothes; neatness and good personal hygiene and grooming; and understanding the proportion dynamics between your body’s shape and cut and construction of the clothes. Beyond those items, it’s all about self-expression, so have fun and find your individual style voice. For teens especially, fashion and style is about experimentation and developing identity and should be a process of self-exploration and trying on different ways of visual expression to see what fits and feels good.

Too often I see women of all ages hiding under shapeless black clothes. With teens and young women this is a particularly sensitive issue. Many at every size are struggling to come to terms with a changing and blossoming body, breasts they didn’t have a year ago, hips that are beginning to curve, sometimes height that came in a sudden growth spurt. Unlike older women, this hiding under huge clothes isn’t always just about being overweight; it’s often a far more complicated emotional landscape that is summed up in a single phrase “I feel fat,” whether she really is or not. The operative word in that statement is “feel”, not “fat”. Some of your challenge as a parent is neutralizing some of those emotions and helping her to come to terms with her own body. Also, recognizing that the baggy t-shirt might be there in an unvoiced attempt to keep boys from staring at her newly voluptuous breasts or deflect potential teasing about them, not because she doesn’t want to look pretty, means treading very lightly with the style advice about what would make her “look better”. Style advice offered for adults simply may not work for a teen because it might look better but leaves her feeling exposed. Only you, as the concerned parent, can gauge if this added layer of body insecurity communicated through baggy, shapeless clothes is what needs addressing first.

But, if you have a teen who is larger than average who craves wearing the latest fashions like her friends but thinks she has to “lose weight” to fit the clothes first, that is an entirely different matter. Unfortunately, most fashion magazines while irresistible to most fashion obsessed girls are a terrible place to begin for body image role modeling. They re-enforce the idea of a single acceptable body type – currently painfully thin – and showcase clothing available only to a few, both in expense and highly limited size ranges. Instead, I like to point people to a few different, fun alternative resources.

Many of the style and makeover shows on cable television deal with real people with lots of different body shapes, heights, weights, and ages, and teach them how to choose clothing that flatters both their bodies and their tastes and lifestyles. Much to these shows’ credit, most never make a peep about weight or size but instead take real bodies and teach people how to both express themselves and choose cuts and colors that flatter what they have to work with. End of discussion. My personal favorites are “What Not to Wear” on TLC (The Learning Channel) and “How Do I Look?” on the Style Network. The hosts on both are fun, light hearted, non-judgmental on body issues, although sometimes vicious on style issues, and involve cracker-jack stylists. I do advise vetting style shows first before tuning your daughters in, since some do have some size biases, but these can be something fun to watch together and provide an opportunity for discussion about likes and dislikes, in addition to teaching great style skills without sending the message that they must lose weight first.

Another fun and exciting venue is attending in-store fashion shows. If you live near a major city, keep an eye out for shows at your local department stores in their plus departments. Clinton Kelly from “What Not to Wear” has been hosting the plus-size shows at Macy’s over the last year, but the other major department stores frequently have them too. These aren’t just for older women, and there is a certain excitement in seeing plus-size models on the runways in cute fashions. If you don’t live near a major city, Fashion Bugs across the country have in-store fashion shows a couple of times a year that use volunteer models from the community with the only requirement that Fashion Bug has clothes that fit them. Since this store carries junior, misses and plus-sizes up to 32W you will see people of all different sizes in this show. And if your teen has a hankering to try the runway herself, this is a great place to start. Trendy, plus chain stores may also from time to time have fashion shows at the malls too, so keep an eye out in your local paper for Lane Bryant, Ashley Stewart, Torrid and Avenue fashion shows, especially around the Back to School and holiday season. And, there are a growing number of traveling fashion shows specifically for trendy plus-sizes with voluptuous models that make stops in major cities around the country, so keep an ear out for radio advertising and newspaper announcements.

If you are fortunate enough to live near an art museum with paintings and sculptures from a variety of periods and are comfortable showing and discussing artistic nudes with your teen, interesting her in a visit can help to counteract today’s narrow beauty standards. Alternatively you can check out art books full of glossy reproductions from the library. Looking at gorgeous, beautiful women who were celebrated beauties in their day and inspired stunning artistic masterpieces but don’t fit today’s beauty ideals can help young women to see their own bodies in a different light. Since looking at fashion magazines and those glossy, artistic pages with gorgeous clothes and fabulous lighting is looking at art, simply change the art and make the point that artists have been finding beauty in all different kinds of female shapes for centuries. Artists to look for in particular include: Renoir, Rubens, Gauguin, Tamara de Lempicka, Fernando Bottero and Gaston Lachaise, to name just a few. A book I particularly like to reference in this vein is _Zaftig: A Case for Curves_ by Edward St. Paige which is full of colored illustrations of art masterpieces.

Learning about make-up and color is as much a part of fashion as the clothing itself, and some of putting together fantastic outfits is exploring what colors work best with your natural complexion, hair and eye color. A fun size-neutral activity your teen can host with her fellow fashion crazy friends is a color party. Color Me Beautiful is probably the most famous of the consultants for color, but Mary Kay and Avon representatives are also often trained to do people’s colors at in-home parties too.

Finally, another unusual resource is subscribing to clothing catalogs that carry larger sizes exclusively or right along next to the misses sizes, and also use high fashion photography in their presentation style. While the models will still be fairly uniform in their size and shape, your teen can get style ideas of how to wear the current trends and the fun of pouring over stylish fashion spreads just like in magazines, but the clothes are actually available in her size, neutralizing the message of “not for you dear” that screams out from most magazines. Department stores like Bloomingdales and Nordstrom send out full-figured mail-order catalogs with great high-style photography, along with some other lower priced trend-conscious cataloguers like Newport News, Alloy, and plus-specific Silhouettes. Like magazines your teen can rip out or mark favorites, keep a style file of fashions she likes and discuss trends with her friends. She’ll also know exactly where to find it in her size if something turns out to be a must have, minimizing the body angst.



DR ROBYN:

2. Address and dress her sense of style: This can help your daughter build her sense of self worth while making herself feel great. As Catherine Schueller, plus size stylist and former plus size model told me, “help your daughter identify what kind of style she wants to embrace. Is she romantic? Modern? Country? Then look through the magazines with her and rip out pictures that go along with her style. Once you have these, you can call the stores and ask them to pull some outfits in her size that capture her style of interest.” The outfits don’t have to be the same ones that she ripped out of the magazines. Why should they be? That outfit may have looked good on the model but something else, that captures her unique look, might look better on your daughter. It’s funny, and we might not think about it when we leaf through the magazines, but if the outfit had not looked good on the model, they would have put her in something else without a second thought! We should have the same freedom without feeling guilty, fat, or worthless because of it.

HERE I NEED SPECIFIC HOW TOS, BEST BET STORIES, BEST BET BRANDS AGAIN—OR ANYTHING ELSE YOU THINK MAKES SENSE FOR THIS SECTION. YOU MIGHT KNOW BETTER THAN I DO ABOUT WHAT WE NEED TO CONVEY TO PARENTS AND GIRLS TO HELP THEM GET SET ON THE ROAD TO FEELING BEAUTIFUL. OF COURSE, THE MORE SPECIFIC THE BETTER. AS AN EDITOR YOURSELF YOU KNOW THAT GENERAL STUFF SOUNDS WISHY WASHY ANS ISN’T HELPFUL TO THE READERS!

I CAN ALSO PROVIDE SOME SIDE BARS HERE IS YOU HAVE ANY THAT WILL KNOCK SOME SOCKS OFF.
 

THEA POLITIS:

As I mentioned above, understanding the proportion dynamics between your body’s shape and the cut, pattern, fabric and construction of the clothes is one of the keys to looking fabulous. This has nothing to do with size and everything to do with fit and shape. Contrary to popular belief “plus-size” is not a body type or shape. So what works for one full-figured person, may not work all that well for another. This holds true for thin people too. We all have a single basic body type, regardless of how much weight we are carrying – it just becomes fuller and curvier with more weight, but fundamentally the shape and proportions are the same. And it is important to realize that there are almost no styles that look great on all body shapes. Every one of us does well to pick and choose the cuts that work best for our individual figure. What is particularly challenging with teens is that their bodies are in the middle of changing and transitioning from a straight, little girl’s body to a curvy woman’s body. What looked cute last year, might not work this year and for those that develop early, what looks cute on friends might not work on your teen. Helping them through the tears and frustration at a time when being just like everybody else is paramount is part of the pain of growing up for all of us. It is important to remember that all of us went through some version of that painful transition no matter what our size was as a teenager. It only feels like it only happens to us big kids when we are the one’s in the middle of the teenage body angst.

But, learning to objectively identify overall body shape, rather than simply focusing on the individual parts of our bodies we like or dislike helps us to choose clothes that will bring our body lines into proportion and balance. This isn’t about looking thinner. It is about looking balanced, so keep comments like, “That makes you/me look fat” out of the discussion.

For example, structurally are the shoulders narrower than the hips? About equal with the hips? Or broader than the hips? Is the torso straight? Full busted? Is there a curve in and definition at the waist? Are hips broad with full buttocks and muscular thighs? Or is there little difference between waist and hips with flat buttocks and sinewy legs? Are you tall, average height or petite? Are you long waisted or short waisted? These parts go together into some general basic body types, but small variations do add further variety to the female form so try not to think too rigidly when consulting style manuals and guides that help decipher body shapes. It is also important to focus on shoulder proportions when trying to understand your body shape. A common mistake plus-sizes make when consulting general style manuals is to use the bust for the upper torso proportions in determining body shape rather than the shoulders. It is the shoulder line that will determine the difference between several body shapes, not the bust.


Visually, and all celebrity stylists do this with their clients, the trick is to create the impression of an evenly proportioned body line from top to bottom underneath the clothes. No amount of dieting will achieve this look if you were not born with a naturally balanced body shape, and it is important to note most people aren’t. That’s where the tricks of clothes, color, pattern and the perfect fit come in to the magic we see everyday in glossy magazines, on television and in advertising. It also means, learning to be wise about which trends to follow and which to leave to others with the knowledge that you can wear some that other’s best not.

The basic body shapes you will conventionally hear people talking about are apple, pear, hourglass and athletic/straight and these hold true for slim and full-figured women alike. Many style manuals will break types down further or use other shape designations with greater variation for better tailored tips and tricks. A huge subject worth many chapters all on it’s own, it is both fun and worth getting a couple of style manuals to help figure out both body shape and clothing cuts that flatter and bring that body type into proportion. Armed with that new information you can then choose the current trends and clothing shapes that work best for you. Don’t be afraid to experiment.

Generally speaking, contrary to what most girls and women think when they grab the baggy tee, they do not look smaller. In fact, baggy clothes don’t hide a thing and only add volume to the figure. Stuffing a body into garments that are too small also produces a volume accentuating effect. Instead, choose styles that skim the body. Don’t be afraid of accessories, keeping them in proportion with your body. Choose larger hobo or tote bags over tiny clutches. Choose bold pendants over delicate chains. Add pops of unexpected color with shoes, handbags, scarves, hats or jewelry if you still aren’t comfortable moving away from safe, dark colors. Add pattern and lighter colors in unexpected places like jacket linings.

There are some other style secrets that are frequently overlooked by the everyday person that can make a world of difference in how clothing looks and fits. Probably the most important is wearing the appropriate foundation garments. Most women in the United States today wear the wrong size bra. With teens that have rapidly changing bodies, this is especially true. Yet choosing the wrong band and cup size both can cause some health issues, especially for those who wear very large sizes, in terms of proper support and strain on the back, and can also dramatically change body lines and how tops fit. A woman can look much heavier than she actually is if “the girls” are not properly supported. Most department and lingerie stores offer complimentary bra fittings, usually by very non-threatening, grandmotherly types. Most experts suggest fittings for everyone at least annually as small body fluctuations can dramatically change how your bra fits.


I think it is especially important to also find undergarments that are pretty and feminine for plus-size teens who often feel exactly the opposite about their bodies. Just knowing that a bra manufacturer thinks their size is pretty helps tremendously, even if they are still grabbing the voluminous tee shirt to go over it. Lane Bryant’s Cacique line, Avenue’s Body line and Queen Latifah’s Curvation line available at Walmart all make efforts to offer both support and feminine styles in extra voluptuous bra sizes.

But along with bras, some garments will look much better with body smoothers. A far cry from the cruel, constricting girdles our grandmothers suffered through, these modern, hi-tech fabric body shapers are a must-have in most modeling bags and can be amazingly comfortable to wear when they are the right size. Don’t try to squeeze into one too small in an attempt to look thinner. The idea is to smooth body lines not drop dress sizes and choosing the right style body shaper for the right garment is key. Control top pantyhose are the most well known for smoothing tummy, hips and thighs, but frequently body briefers are a better choice, removing the chance of a muffin top roll appearing over the top, ruining the line of your dress. The lingerie lines mentioned above all carry plus-size options even for very large figures, as do many on-line lingerie retailers like Figleaves.

A staple in most teens closets, jeans are probably the most difficult item of clothes to fit properly. When they fit well, a girl can feel like a princess. When they fit poorly she can feel like a blob. Add in designer and label conscious social pressures and this simple garment could be a parent’s biggest shopping challenge with their teen. The good news is that the under-served plus apparel market has received tremendous attention in recent years and finding clothes in both younger styles and better fits is improving. The bad news is that it a constantly fluctuating landscape with retailers coming and going, changing outlet methods and a tremendous amount of struggling with fit issues.


 

Here are some basics to understand when shopping in this volatile and often confusing marketplace:

 

  • Young and trendy styles are available in several types of cuts. This goes back to body shape which cut type is going to fit your teen best. Junior cuts are designated by odd numbers like 11, 13, 15. In theory, they are cut for younger bodies that are straighter and have developed fewer curves. There is less of a differential between waist and hip measurements, busts are smaller, and arm holes are higher and smaller. Extended misses sizes are available in lines that start at a 0, 2, or 4 and go beyond a size 14 in even sizing usually to and 18 or 20, occasionally to a 22 are cut to fit moderately curvy figures. The last cut is women’s or classic plus-sizes which are indicated by even sizes over 12 with a “W” afterwards. It used to be true that the styles in women’s or classic plus-sizes were always older, but this is no longer the case with many fashion forward styles now available in this sizing range. This is the most generous cut with more room in the bust, waist and thigh areas with deeper arm holes. Because the cut has more room, it’s not unusual for a woman to find she wears a smaller numerical size in women’s sizes compared to extended misses or junior sizes. Confusion may enter when the general 1X, 2X, 3X sizing system is in place as this can appear with any of the three cut types without any indication of which is in practice. Finally, keep in mind, there is such a thing as plus petite styles for shorter women under 5’4”. Petite does not refer to slimness, only height.
     

  • Who is used as a fit model for a clothing line makes all the difference in how well it fits. A “fit model” is the woman the patternmakers use to fine tune the fit of a garment during production. She is a standard size and then the pattern is graded up and down from there to make the other sizes in the line. If a size 6 or 8 fit model is used for the line, it isn’t unusual for some very funky fit issues to crop into the larger sizes over the traditional misses size range. If you find a label seems to get crazily long in the larger sizes, arms never seem to fit and everything seems just a little bit off, chances are the patterns from the line have been sized up from a smaller fit model. Sometimes this problem appears in lines that are marketed as “junior plus” as well as extended misses and sometimes, although less frequently, in traditional women’s size plus lines which more reliably use size 14, 16 or 18 fit models when developing their patterns. Some plus body types may never have a problem with lines graded from smaller fit models, but many others may find the fit to be a disaster. Never make the mistake of thinking there is something wrong with you. In an age of mass produced apparel no one gets a perfect fit, not even super skinny girls, without having custom made clothing or taking garments to a tailor for alterations. Most just live with “average” fitting clothes. Some clothing lines in their rush to jump into the plus apparel market are making some big fit mistakes and cutting manufacturing corners. You are not the problem.
     

  • No two labels really size the same, and there aren’t truly uniform sizes even when the numbers are the same. Don’t get hung up on a particular size. It’s OK to think of yourself generally as a size 16, as long as you realize that in some labels – or even styles – you might wear a 14, an 18, a 20 or a 12. The number doesn’t define you at all. The proper fit on the other hand, always makes you look your trimmest and best. The best policy is to know your measurements and compare them to a label’s fit charts, especially when shopping through catalogs and on the internet where there are the most style options available for plus-sizes. I always carry a card with my measurements in my purse for just this reason.
     

  • Shape shopping is in its infancy, but certain labels have begun to experiment with creating different garment cuts for different body types in the plus-size range. At the forefront is Lane Bryant which has begun making jeans in a whole new sizing system to fit different shapes, not just different sizes. The early results are stunning, especially since they are also taking the guesswork out of choosing jean styles that compliment different body types as well. If the style doesn’t come in your shape, chances are it’s a shape that wouldn’t truly flatter your particular variety of curves and make you look your very best. Women of all ages are raving about the fit and how great these jeans make them look.


Now armed with all this new found knowledge about sizes and shapes, where do you shop to find the latest styles and trends that will appeal to a teenager? There are a growing number of national chain stores that cater exclusively to plus sizes, with Torrid being at the forefront for younger, trendier looks. If part of what your teen is looking for is the experience of being able to shop with her friends at the mall, some trendy stores like Steve and Barry have extended sizes up to an 18 or 20, while others like the Deb Shop and Fashion Bug have separate plus-size sections. Department stores at all price points are beginning to carry larger selections of plus-size clothing but many offer trendier styles only at certain locations or on-line. Some popular stores like Old Navy carry extended misses sizes up to 2XL in their stores, a line fit on smaller misses models, while on-line they have an exclusive line fit on a plus-size model in sizes 16 to 30W. Plus-exclusive retailers like Avenue sometimes carry exclusives designer fashions for label conscious teens only on-line.

If you are starting to get the idea that more variety and options are available in plus-sizes on-line and in catalogs than in stores in most places, then you would be correct. In an era when apparel sales have surpassed sales of electronics and software on the internet, not only is this likely to continue to be the case, but it is part of a broader trend. E-Bay is probably one of the best spots for teens to find truly on-trend fashions in their size with a growing number of Power Sellers hawking brand new clothes, many available for the “Buy It Now” shopper who doesn’t enjoy the uncertainty of the bidding process. Nowhere is it more important to understand the different sizing systems and comparing your own measurements to size charts than here. ElegantPlus.com maintains a frequently updated internet directory specifically for young and trendy shoppers for more options available on-line, mostly big-name recognizable retailers, but also smaller retailers that have been vetted for shopping security.

 

 

 

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